I recently returned from Asia where I was training firefighters on the use of thermal imaging camera (TIC) technology. As I boarded the plane for my flight home, I realized how similar firefighters are from one continent to another. We are all brothers and sisters and face many of the same challenges when responding to fire calls. Many of the training tips that I’ve highlighted in this column I shared with these firefighters during my trip. As we welcome in a new year, I thought it would be helpful to recap some of the training tips and guidelines I’ve shared during the year that resonate with firefighters across all continents.
The number of nonfire calls a department receives each month continues to outnumber the fire-related calls. This doesn’t mean that your TIC shouldn’t be with you on a nonfire call. Using a TIC for everyday nonfire emergency incidents is a smart use of this technology. Let’s look at a few tips for using a TIC on nonfire calls.
Motor vehicle accidents. When arriving on the scene, it’s critical to determine how many people were in the vehicle prior to the accident to account for all parties. Use your TIC to check the automobile seats for hot spots to determine how many people were in the car. A TIC cannot see through glass, so be sure to open or remove the door or window of the vehicle before you scan. Don’t scan just one seat but multiple seats at the same time for comparative purposes, since your TIC will show residual heat. What you’re looking for is contrasting heat signatures.
Search and rescue. How many times has your local police department called you for help with locating a missing person? Maybe it’s an elderly woman who has wandered away from her home or a child who has gotten lost in the woods. Use the TIC to pick up heat spots that can help guide you to a missing person. It often cuts minutes off a search that can mean the difference between life and death.
Hazmat. Even if you don’t have a trained hazmat team, you surely have responded to hazmat calls such as an overturned vehicle or tanker truck, a chemical emergency, or a meth lab fire. Using a TIC helps you see what the naked eye cannot see: tracing a spill on the roadway in a rain storm, seeing the gases of a container at a safe distance, or seeing the content level of an enclosed container at a safe distance.
Your number of fire calls may be down, but you need to be ready with the proper training, knowledge, and tools. Here are a few TIC guidelines when responding to a structural fire.
Three-pass scan. Scan a room with your TIC in a smoke-filled structure using a three-pass technique. The first pass is across the ceiling, looking for heat accumulation, potential vent points, and structural integrity. The second pass is across the middle of the room, looking at the physical layout and its contents as well as the location of any secondary egress points. The third pass is across the floor looking for collapsed victims and any special hazards. All three scans take less than 10 seconds but are important to maintaining proper orientation with your TIC.
Overhaul. Use a TIC during overhaul to help determine how far a fire has traveled and to find hot spots. The TIC can detect the smallest temperature differences that can indicate a smoldering fire. Identifying possible rekindles can help lessen property loss and time at the scene. Using a TIC to properly overhaul ensures that the fire is completely out and there is no threat of reignition.
Flashover. Using a TIC during preflashover situations can help you determine warning signs that you would not otherwise see. A TIC will never help you if you are caught in a flashover. You don’t have enough time to look at your TIC, process what’s on the screen, and try to escape a flashover. It is estimated that you have maybe two or three seconds max to get out of a flashover situation; even if you had a few more seconds, looking at your TIC will only show you what you already know is happening.
Fire attack. The TIC can show thermal layers, a safe path for advancement, alternative exits, and the location of the heaviest fire. Using a TIC can help you suppress a fire quickly, efficiently, and safely. A TIC should arrive with the first unit on the scene; if it is on the third or fourth unit, it may be too late for the TIC to help in the fire attack. It’s also critical that the TIC be assigned to a firefighter to ensure it comes off the apparatus.
Wishing you a joyous holiday and a safe new year!
Carl Nix is a 32-year veteran of the fire service and a retired battalion chief of the Grapevine (TX) Fire Department. He serves as an adjunct instructor for North Central Texas College and a thermal imaging instructor for Bullard. Nix has a bachelor of science degree in fire administration and is a guest instructor for Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s (TEEX) annual fire training in Texas.